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“Concerning the status of woman, we should be ashamed of being the bottom in almost every aspect comparing to other OECD countries. (…) I promise that I’ll examine the gender equality indicator so that the score of woman status in Korea can be enhanced to at least the average of OECD.” This is President Moon Jae-in’s statement, then a former representative of Democratic Party of Korea (DPK). He spoke these words in February 2017 and proclaimed himself a “feminist president”. Three months later, he was elected as a president of Korea. Two years have passed since his pledge to work for women. Has he really kept his word?
The Moon Administration, Is It Truly Feministic?
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, feminism is defined as “the belief that women should be allowed the same rights, power, and opportunities as men and treated in the same way, or the set of activities intended to achieve this state”. A similar statement is reflected in the Constitution of South Korea, Article 11, which states that all citizens are equal before the law regardless of gender and others. To realize feminism in Korea and to be a feminist president, President Moon proposed his “commitment for gender equality” during his campaign. He was aiming to make reforms in childcare, female employment, labor rights, maternity leave, and protection from gender-related crimes.
|STATISTICS FROM GALLUP|
However, when his approval rating among males in their twenties decreased, the report ‘Analysis and Countermeasure to Manage the Decline in Approval Rating among Males in Their Twenties’ conducted by the Presidential Commission on Policy Planning (PCPP) announced on February 18 caused a huge stir in society. According to the report, the approval rate among males aged 19 to 29 declined from 87% in June 2017 to 41% in December 2018. However, his approval rating among females aged 19 to 29 was 63% in December 2018. Analysis attributed the reasons for the decline to the gender equality policy, also known as “a female skew in policy” by the government, stating that “Women in their twenties are a new “collectivism”, which is comprised of a sensitive progressive group armed with the value of individualism and feminism. However, many females and organizations question whether the government is really overly female-weighted based on the findings of indexes, statistics, and the real life of women.
Where Is Gender Equality?
Among the many aspects concerning gender equality, this article focuses on two specific commitments regarding gender equality by President Moon and his administration. One of the commitments that Moon promised for gender equality was the establishment of a Presidential Gender Equality Committee. Before his promise to establish such a committee, a Gender Equality Committee operated under the Prime Minister. It has existed since 2015 to keep basic gender equality law and to establish policies about gender equality. However, the committee was criticized for doing little to make changes. Therefore, President Moon promised to give the committee more power during his election campaign so that it could have more control over gender equality policy establishment. Indeed, about 4 months after Moon became president, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (MOGEF) announced that it would create a ‘Task Force for Preparation of Launching Gender Equality Committee’. However, last January, Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon showed skepticism over establishing the Committee. “There are already lots of committees, so there is little time for meetings. It is only held once or twice a year,” Lee stated.2) As Lee warns, there were two meetings in 2018, despite the huge number of gender issues that same year. Jin Sun Mee, Minister of MOGEF, also expressed doubt about the Committee’s effectiveness by bringing up real problems. As a result, the commitment remains stationary.
PHOTO FROM NAVER, JOONGANG ILBO, SEOUL ILBO
Another promise by President Moon was to dismantle the glass ceiling against women. To accomplish this, he said he would form a cabinet with at least 30% female ministers. However, his promise has yet to be fulfilled despite entering his third year in office. Current female ministers include Kang Kyung-wha, Foreign Minister, Yoo Eun-hae, Minister of Education, Jin Sun Mee, Minister of Gender Equality and Family, and Park Young-sun for Minister of SMEs and Startups along with 18 other ministers, which makes the female gender ratio below the 30% at 22.2%. Glass ceiling in government is as clear as it is in many other fields. The recently revealed glass ceiling index, based on pay or representation in senior positions, by The Economist shows Korea to be the worst place for working women among OECD countries. The Economist report says Moon has “a long way to go” to achieve a female ratio of “10% in senior government positions, 20% as public-company executives, and 40% of members in government committees by 2022”. For instance, 98% of Korean company boards of directors are male.3) These latest data show that Korea has the thickest glass ceiling among OECD nations, so it is hard for women to feel like they are being treated as humans at their workplaces.
To explore gender equality in Korea, SMT met with Sookmyungians raising their voices for improved gender equality. SMT met with two members of the Sookmyung Feminists Association (SFA), Lee Seunghyeon, Department of Political Science & International Relations ’17, and Kim Jiyoon, Department of Political Science & International Relations ’18. When asked about positive gender equality changes since being elected, they said President Moon’s administration is the first in Korean history to announce the forming of a cabinet with at least 30% female ministers. “Even though the commitment has yet to be fulfilled, more females believe they could one day work as ministers. This small initiative has unified women across the nation to raise their voices,” Lee stated. However, to truly realize feminism Lee and Kim both emphasized more aggressive gender equality policies, especially for single household females. “Moon has promised to support young people by increasing minimum wage, but a more vulnerable social group is the single female. Single female households are underrepresented in politics and the law. Therefore, there is a need for more policies directly affecting young working age females, especially single householders,” Kim added. Single households are on the rise, and more young women are opting out of marriage. Therefore, both Lee and Kim mentioned the importance of policies for both women as mothers and career ladies.
Park SoJin, Director of Research Institute of Asian Women, also stressed the importance of more gender equality policies. “The terms ‘female-skewed’ and ‘reverse discrimination’ are often heard when discussions on gender equality policy arise, giving the impression that females are not disadvantaged. However, statistics refute the idea. These policies need to balance the unlevelled system, which exists and not merely focus on benefiting individual females.” Along with mentioning the significance of gender equality policy reform, Park also emphasized the need for more practical commitment. “Once one commits to something, in this case gender equality, all other commitments can be realized. It’s a spiral effect. For instance, when more women enter an organization, the possibility of senior staff positions for women increases. In other words, it can lead to breaking of the glass ceiling or glass wall,” Park stated. There are many commitments that President Moon has promised for achieving gender equality such as preventing gender-based violence and removing gender discrimination at the workplace. However, Park said that it is more important to create a proper view of gender equality rather than focus on new government policy at the moment. “The most important thing is to make gender equality policy that allows society to see the issue as a social problem, not as an individual problem. To do this, the government should make a collaborative agreement with organizations that investigates the effectiveness and strengthens feedback concerning policy,” Park said. As Park implies, without any real implementation or effectiveness, the commitment will remain words without action.
PHOTO FROM THE WOMEN'S NEWS
Yes, We Want a Feminist President
“I will be a feminist president.” President Moon said these words before being elected president. Since taking office, President Moon has raised social awareness of many issues about gender and more people are discussing gender equality. However, the reality for women at workplaces and the home has remained as it was. Women want to live in a society where they can challenge their peers for higher positions, not be harassed or discriminated due to their gender because everyone is human regardless of their gender. Change does not come instantly, but small changes can improve the situation and lead to well implemented solutions with true awareness and effectiveness.
1) Park Dahae, “[Exclusive] "Female in Their Twenties, a New Collectivism Armed with Feminism”, Stated PPCP”, Hankyoreh, February 27, 2019
2) Jin Juwon, “Prime Minister’s Gender Equality Committee Holds No Meetings”, The Women’s News, January 5, 2019
3) The Economist, “The Glass-Ceiling Index”, March 8, 2019
Kim Ma Seunghee firstname.lastname@example.org